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Virtual Talmud


Do Clothes Make the Politician?

It’s a fact: In public life, we often tend to make judgments based on appearances. If someone looks or acts different enough from us, we tend to believe his or her views are outside of the mainstream as well. For politicians in particular, being considered “out of the mainstream” is damaging, and this raises some interesting questions when their religious beliefs cause them to act or look different from the American norm.

The current tempest in a teapot is over the (entirely irrelevant) question of whether Mitt Romney and Harry Reid wear Mormon undergarments. And there’s the despicable comment by commentator Dennis Prager that newly elected Muslim congressman Keith Ellison’s desire to take his oath of office on a Qur’an rather than a Bible “undermines American civilization.” In each case, a politician’s integrity is being called into question, either implicitly or explicitly, because his religious beliefs may cause him to behave differently from what we’ve come to expect.

Both of these non-issues will blow over because they are not so highly visible–Ellison swearing on the Qu’ran looks like Christian politicians swearing on the Bible, and the silly Mormon undergarment flap obviously takes place out of sight. But it’s an interesting question how Americans would react to a politician whose religious beliefs or practices looked really different–say, a female Muslim politician who wears hijab (headcovering), or a Sikh who wears a turban. Put differently, would Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an observant Jew, have been able to achieve the broad national success he has if he wore a kippah (skullcap) or had tzitzit (ritual fringes) hanging out from under his jacket?

The irony is that appearance is a lousy basis for deciding how extreme a politician’s religious views might be since, with the exception of groups like the Amish, Christian piety doesn’t generally express itself in distinctive garb. Believing that if someone looks like you they will think like you is as great a fallacy as the idea that if people look and dress distinctively, their views will not only be different, but in tension with your own.

When we make decisions about our politicians based on superficial features rather than their policies and positions on the issues, we only promote a system that favors superficial politicians.



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Melody Brynne Lemmon

posted December 6, 2006 at 11:17 pm


I was born and raised in the Mormon Church for 40 years and feel qualified to address this issue. The matter of “Mormon underwear” is not a trivial question. It is, for those who have been through a Mormon temple, a huge indicator of this persons vows and beliefs but even more of serious life-altering committments made that may indeed impinge on ones political ideologies and one’s willingness to represent all people’s needs. Vows taken in the Mormon temple commit the person to place not only God but their chosen church above any and all other commitments and promises. This is quite serious. If it were just the obedience to God alone I wouldn’t worry. But the vows taken in the temple extend also to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and they reign supreme over all other promises and other obligations. Couple this with the Mormon teachings as found in books by authors such as Ezra Taft Benson, the late Mormon Church president, that one day in the future the Constitution of the United States will hang, as it were, by a thread and that the “Elders of Israel” will rush in to save it and run the country in league with Jesus, (read the Mormon elders in league with Jesus) and you have the makings of a man willing to help the Mormons run the country. This is serious business and it bears looking into! It is part of why I am no longer a member! They have very Grandiose plans for this country of ours!



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Bud Eleson

posted December 7, 2006 at 5:35 pm


I shudder to contemplate it, but I believe we are getting exactly the kind of government that we deserve.



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marian neudel

posted December 7, 2006 at 8:40 pm


Re: Praeger and Ellison–is it possible Dennis Praeger doesn’t know about all the hoops that Sir Moses Montefiore had to jump through to get sworn into Parliament on the “Old Testament” as the first Jewish MP in English history? (although the story that Queen Victoria, on being told about all this, asked Disraeli, “Why is this knight different from all other knights?” is probably apocryphal.) To believe the US government has the right to shove the Christian bible down anybody’s throat suggests that Mr. Praeger is a couple of candles short of a menorah.



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marian neudel

posted December 7, 2006 at 8:40 pm


Re: Praeger and Ellison–is it possible Dennis Praeger doesn’t know about all the hoops that Sir Moses Montefiore had to jump through to get sworn into Parliament on the “Old Testament” as the first Jewish MP in English history? (although the story that Queen Victoria, on being told about all this, asked Disraeli, “Why is this knight different from all other knights?” is probably apocryphal.) To believe the US government has the right to shove the Christian bible down anybody’s throat suggests that Mr. Praeger is a couple of candles short of a menorah.



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Chana Silverman

posted December 8, 2006 at 2:41 pm


A couple of candles short of a Menorah – hehe! Well, if it gets to crazy in this country we can always move to Israel! I am hoping tolelrance and our rights of freedom of religion and also speech remain. This country is so diverse I seriously doubt if any religious group will be able to completely take over – even the majority of the religious right. I voted for Mr. Gore first time around Bush the second, (regetfully) as I wanted to give him more time to accomplish his lofty goals for Irag and thought Carry just as much a “dufus”. Seems to me neither one of them can intellictually guide this country. The next ten years should be very interesting. We just need to remember to pray, as Jerimiah admonishes us, for the government and keep the torch of Tikun Olam ahead of us. I know I mis-spell – no time to check out words – Shalom All



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Chana Silverman

posted December 8, 2006 at 2:41 pm


A couple of candles short of a Menorah – hehe! Well, if it gets to crazy in this country we can always move to Israel! I am hoping tolelrance and our rights of freedom of religion and also speech remain. This country is so diverse I seriously doubt if any religious group will be able to completely take over – even the majority of the religious right. I voted for Mr. Gore first time around Bush the second, (regetfully) as I wanted to give him more time to accomplish his lofty goals for Irag and thought Carry just as much a “dufus”. Seems to me neither one of them can intellictually guide this country. The next ten years should be very interesting. We just need to remember to pray, as Jerimiah admonishes us, for the government and keep the torch of Tikun Olam ahead of us. I know I mis-spell – no time to check out words – Shalom All



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